Your Own Private Desert -- Cacti and Succulents

Terrariums are great, but the constant maintenance, misting, and condensation tend to wear on people after a while. If you’re ready for a dry change by way of an exciting and unique in-home accent, consider raising succulents and cacti to create your own indoor desert space! A little indoor desertscape can bring an interesting flair to your space without the fuss required to maintain the typical terrarium environments. All it takes is a little know-how to get started.

Setting Up an Indoor Desertscape

The options for containers you can use are endless, but you need a wide-open container to maintain proper airflow and let humidity escape. Make sure to choose one that does not have a lid. If condensation builds within the space, it will spell doom for the plants. These plants like it dry. 

Terracotta or ceramic pots — with a generous drain hole — offer several benefits over plastic or metal containers when paired with succulents. These materials are naturally breathable and porous, helping them absorb excess water if you overdo it, and keeping your succulents dry and well-ventilated. The extra weight of a ceramic or terracotta pot also helps anchor your plant; with their light, dry soil preference, succulents can otherwise be prone to tipping or wind damage. 

Line the bottom of the container with plenty of special potting mix for succulents and cacti. There are different types of substrate mixes available, including substances like perlite and orchid bark for improved drainage, along with volcanic rock, and clay pebbles. 

Refrain from using regular potting soil or substrate that contains peat moss, both of which retain too much moisture for these plants. The best potting mixes will be specifically marketed for use with succulents —other keywords to watch for include cactus- and palm-potting mixes — so make sure to check the label for a formulation that drains properly and doesn’t retain moisture.

Your Indoor Desert Garden: Succulents

Succulents are some of the main features of any little indoor desert, so you’ll need to follow a few guidelines to get it right. Many different colors of succulents are available, but when you're considering them for an indoor desertscape, try to keep a specific color combination in mind. Choose a nice variety of shapes, widths, and heights.

Some great succulents to add to your desert ecosystem include:

  • Jade plants
  • Hens and chicks
  • Panda plants
  • Dwarf aloe
  • Echeveria

You might also consider paddle plants, haworthia, widow’s thrill, and sempervivum.

Cacti for Indoor Desertscapes

There isn’t a definitive list of cacti species that are ideally suited for terrarium-type set-ups; however, that doesn’t mean there aren’t any that do well. Some cactus varieties repeatedly show up in all kinds of private indoor little deserts and live quite happily for many years. Some of the most popular cacti to consider adding to your indoor desertscape are:

  • Cinnamon cactus
  • Peanut cactus
  • Thimble mammillaria
  • Domino cactus
  • Rainbow pincushion
  • Bunny ears cactus
  • Barrel cactus

Once you’ve chosen your plants, arrange them in the substrate however you like. Since succulents and cacti are slow to grow, you won’t have to leave much space between the plants.

Caring for Your Indoor Desert

Many people make the mistake of either overwatering their desert plants or never watering them at all. Keep the following in mind: Succulents and cacti do like water, but they enjoy it most when that water evaporates and drains away quickly, just as it does in the desert. The better you mimic these conditions, the more your plants will thrive. Try watering plants just a few times a month, and only “top them off” (so to speak), never soak them. You don’t ever want to saturate the substrate! If you choose a transparent container, you can visually check the water level in the substrate pretty easily.

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